Ben Aaronovitch – Moon Over Soho

When I was a kid, I was in charge of changing my dad’s records while he lounged around drinking tea – that’s how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And that’s why, when Dr Walid called me down to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune as ‘Body and Soul’ – something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint on his corpse like a wax cylinder recording. The former owner of the body, Cyrus Wilkinson, was a part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant who had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig.

He wasn’t the first, but no one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned police legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene, with the lovely Simone – Cyrus’ ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens’ portrait – as my guide. And it didn’t take me long to realise there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives.

And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant – my father – who managed to destroy his own career. Twice.

That’s the thing about policing: most of the time you’re doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you’re doing it for justice. And maybe, once in a career, you’re doing it for revenge.

Hurray, finally! I’ve been itching to get my hands on Moon Over Soho ever since finishing Rivers of London in January. So when we went on The Great London Book Spree of 2011, it was almost the first book that I picked up off the shelves. Only then I got waylaid, Wiebe started reading it before I could finish my then current read and I had to wait until he had finished it. Which was both frustrating and great. Frustrating because I wanted to read the book now – thank you very much – but great because it’s rare that Wiebe loves the same books as much as I do. As an aside: does anyone share the experience of having your partner mooning in front of the bookcases saying there’s nothing new to read there, even when there are at least a hundred books there you know they’ve never read? It drives me batty sometimes!

Revisiting the Folly was great fun. The second instalment in this series, Moon Over Soho is just as much fun as its predecessor Rivers of London, though I personally missed Lesley in this outing. The case (or actually cases) is again an interesting mix of ‘proper’ policing and magical elements. I liked the fact that Peter has to go back to his youth, following where the jazz leads. The case links back up with Peter’s dad, as he is the most knowledge person on jazz that Peter knows. It is also the perfect hook for us to learn more about Peter’s background and see him interact with his parents. The entwining of the cases was unexpected, but coolly done, and while the Jazz Vampire case was solved, the other was left open ended, perhaps as a set up for the next book or as a series nemesis, whose story arc could last several books. I’m looking forward to see where Aaronovitch takes this.

We got more background on several of the characters this time. In that regard, most of my hopes mentioned in my Rivers of London write-up were fulfilled, though there is still plenty more to learn! I especially loved the story of how Molly ended up living in the Folly, even if I’m still not sure what she is. The slowly unfolding society of wizards – with Peter and Nightingale even travelling to the latter’s wizardly boarding school in the countryside, which Peter insists on referring to as Hogwarts – is very smoothly done and while providing interesting puzzle pieces, still keeps the reader wanting more. While for some characters, such as Nightingale and Molly the exposition of their back story is quite obvious, for others we just see glimpses, which create a feel of familiarity, such as meeting Lesley’s father and sister or hear Stephanopoulos refer to her partner as ‘her inside’. I liked that while they didn’t necessarily have as much page time as last book, they weren’t just name-checked to be kept in reserve for the next book.

One of the huge strengths of the Folly series is how recognisable Aaronovitch’s London is. If you wanted to, you could follow the characters on their jaunts through the city. This time that was doubly driven home for me when Peter describes the location of the Folly and the park located nearby, because we actually had sat next to that fountain reading for a couple of hours on our recent trip to London. We might have walked by the Folly’s fictive address! So, even if we didn’t get to visit Covent Garden and the Actor’s Church this time around, I guess we at least got to visit the Folly’s neighbourhood.

Moon Over Soho lost some of Rivers of London‘s first-time wow-factor, which you get when you discover a world or setting for the first time, and I really missed Lesley, I wish she could have had more page time. But despite all that Moon Over Soho is a fantastic read. What it lost in first time amazement, it has gained in character. With his second book Aaronovitch has made The Folly one of my favourite fictive haunts and I hope to return there many a time. Whispers Under Ground, the third book, is due out in November this year, so I won’t have to wait long for that return visit.

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